Good films derive a sense of fulfillment to their audience. And Ralston Rover’s “Bakal Boys” is one of such films.
The movie follows a ragtag crowd of Baseco children who wade through the dingy and squalid waters of Manila bay, scavenging for metal scraps. Armed with slapdash flippers and a pair of goggles, they brave the menacing sea current for what would fetch them money at the junk shop! One fateful day, while the group was busy hauling off an unhinged anchor from the seabed, they failed to notice their friend Bungal’s whereabouts. (Last time we see him, Bungal was swimming after his gadget as it drifted into the ocean.) The succeeding scenes then hover over 10-year old Utoy (Meljun Guinto) as he desperately looks for his friend.
Patience is requisite in appreciating “Bakal Boys”. For one, the narrative structure employs real-time story telling so everything takes forever to happen. We follow the movement of Utoy as he aimlessly searches for Bungal - from the ramshackle house of his Lola Salvia (Gina Pareno), to a net gaming shop, and all over Tondo's rickety barangay. A handheld camera follows the action on screen. The result is intermittently blurry and wobbly images that ultimately bestow a sense of “being there”, like watching a documentary. This technique is slowly gaining ground – Lars von Trier was pioneering; locally, this was employed by the likes of Jeffrey Jeturian (“Kubrador”), Brillante Mendoza (“Kinatay”, “Foster Child”), Pepe Diokno's "Engkwentro", et.al. It also heightens the sense of realism as we become voyeurs peeping into their lives. The gist of the story is a tad too simple. But the plot empowers the viewers to experience life in Baseco, Tondo without stumbling into a pit of schmaltz – and that is admirable!
Finally, as our young protagonist surrenders all sense of hope (he throws away his income-generating metal fishing gears), then we find him waddling into the darkness of the ocean water, wishing to find his friend! The result is contemplative, for 10-year old children aren’t exactly known to delve into the realm of self-destruction. But what does one call such folly? Gallantry? Heroism – when there is no one to save?
Gina Pareno also stars as Bungal’s Lola Salvia. Though Pareno’s insightful performance lends authenticity and finality to the dramatic denouement of losing a child, she however struggles with her Tausug. We maybe nitpicking, but find her accent a bit of a distraction! We have also bemoaned the continuous exploitation of poverty in indies, but in this case, we do not mind. Well told stories tend to rise above trite plot lines. To think that another indie film was shown last January about children as metal scrap scavengers!
We were not too pleased to have swum through a myriad of horrible indies of late. In fact, we were getting desperate for the sake of the Digital Wave. The situation was getting hopeless. Then this came; “Bakal Boys” is one reason why we keep hoping for great cinema! And once in a rare while, we get to pick a gem from the murks of a heavily polluted Manila Bay.